School Choice & Charters

Principals’ Union to Go After New Members in Charter Schools Post-Janus

By Arianna Prothero — July 30, 2018 2 min read
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The national union for public school principals plans to launch a recruitment program for charter school leaders.

The initiative comes as unions are anticipating steep membership and funding losses as a result of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Janus v. AFSCME. The largely non-unionized charter sector could present ample—albeit rocky—territory for expansion for unions. The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that there over 7,000 charter school principals and nearly 90,000 regular school principals.

The American Federation of School Administrators voted last weekend on a resolution to create a charter school recruitment program at its convention in Washington. This is the first concrete move by a union of educators to focus on organizing charter school personnel post-Janus. Neither of the national teachers’ unions offered up such resolutions during their conventions earlier this month.

However, the resolution was not strictly a reaction to Janus, said AFSA spokesman Scott Treibitz. The union’s membership is strongest in urban areas, which have also seen the most aggressive expansion of charter schools, particularly large charter school networks. The union currently has around 20,000 members, including principals, vice principals, administrators, and supervisors.

And it’s in charter networks, which can include dozens of campuses, that Treibitz said there is the most potential.

“A lot of these networks, like a lot of school systems, everything becomes mandated, and they don’t give a lot of flexibility to the person they’ve empowered to lead,” he said.

Likening school leaders to CEOs, Treibitz said that joining a union will provide charter school principals with the power and autonomy they need and crave to run innovative schools.

“That will be a powerful message to charter principals,” he said.

Even within the charter sector, networks have at times been criticized as becoming too bureaucratic and district-like.

A growing share of charter schools in the country belong to larger networks, and that’s where at least teachers’ unions have seen the biggest gains in recent years. In 2010, less than 10 percent of unionized charter schools belonged to either a nonprofit charter management organization or a for-profit education management organization. Today, that number is pushing 20 percent, according to data from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

However, the overall number of unionized charter schools as a percentage nationally has dropped slightly since 2010, from 12.3 percent to 11.3 percent.

How Janus Will Affect Charter Schools

More aggressive charter school recruitment is just one way the Janus decision could impact charter schools and other school choice policies.

Teachers’ unions have long been the strongest political opponents to charter school supporters, and with diminished war chests they may decide to put pull back from fighting efforts to expand charters at the ballot box.

However, there is some evidence the reverse could be true, and that unions could choose to use their more-limited resources to double down on their opposition to school choice. EdWeek explored several ways the Janus fallout could affect charter schools in this article.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.